Don’t suffer in silence: managing your mental health in Berlin

By Thais Nepomuceno

Everyone who arrives in Berlin faces hard times, whether in finding a home, a job, a stable relationship or dealing with German bureaucracy. It can feel like all the odds are against you at times. For people who struggle with mental illness, this period is even harder.

I have been dealing with depression and anxiety since my teenage years, yet it was only in Berlin that I really felt the need to seek treatment. Last year, I was sharing a room with a friend. I was unemployed and my love life sucked. Nothing was going well. Eventually, I found a job and a home, (even if my love life still sucked) but I still felt that I needed some therapy. Fortunately, I was covered by Germany’s public health service, but found myself up against a new problem: finding the therapist.

It seems that everybody in Berlin is struggling with issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar syndrome, loneliness or panic. It’s completely normal to be surrounded by people who are facing hard times, so don’t feel awkward or bad about it. This city is difficult for newcomers faced with the difficulties of finding a home, succeeding amongst tonnes of talented people, learning the language and building a social network. The bureaucracy in Germany is tough for its citizens who speak the language. For foreigners it’s doubly difficult.

The struggle is real and it’s not your fault; Berlin doesn’t always make things easy. So here are some practical steps you can take to keep your mental health in check:

Seek help

If your friends are not aware of your struggle: let them know. It’s important to have people supporting you. It’s hard to be open about it, but it’s necessary. When I am having one of my panic attacks, it really helps that my friends call me or invite me out. I always express how I’m feeling to them, and try to join them if I’m feeling able or get one of them to accompany me. Sharing means your friends can better support you, and you won’t feel totally alone.



Therapists are the hardest doctors to find in Berlin. If you are not fluent in German it’s even harder. I am not proficient in German and I certainly had a hard time looking. If you are a German speaker, German therapists are not as difficult to find, but English-speaking therapists can be very oversubscribed if you’re hoping to find one through the public system. Opting to go private will make it easier to find a therapist, but naturally make it more expensive.

In my attempt to find a therapist, I had about four meetings and four different payment systems. If you don’t have the budget for private treatment there’s likely to be a lot of bureaucracy, so see if you can get a German-speaking friend to help you out. It’s important once you reach the therapist to ask how the payment system will work and whether it’s covered by the public system. You may be offered the option to pay and then get a refund later. If you’re offered this the therapist can guide you on putting in the refund request.

If you find a doctor who speaks your native language but is not covered by the public system, you can claim that you need treatment in your mother tongue to try and get your health insurance to cover it. One thing that made my health public insurer accept me was the fact that I have experienced a traumatic situation. My therapist guided me to a psychiatric who gave me a letter proving I need the treatment.

Finding a therapist 

Every time I tell someone I am doing therapy, I hear the same question: where did you find it? The internet helps a lot, but speaking to people can also be handy. When you let people know you’re searching, there’s usually someone who can recommend you something. Once, during a party I met a Brazilian Psychologist that worked in a Praxis. I asked her if she had space in the schedule for new patients. She told me they were fully booked, but advised me to search on the Brazilian Embassy website, which lists all the doctors in Berlin who speak Portuguese. This ended up being the place I found my therapist. 

Try checking your own embassy’s website for a similar service. If not, ärtze-berlin has a detailed mechanism which filters through doctors by their gender, area, neighbourhood and spoken languages. Another similar website is KV. Both websites are in the German language so if you are not proficient I would suggest installing the Google Translate plugin for your browser whilst using them.


If finding a therapist has being a long process and you feel that you need something immediately, there are other options. If you can’t afford private therapy or you are unemployed and aren’t covered by health insurance, then you should try reaching our to S.U.S.I. It’s a Frauenzentrum which offers all the kinds of support to women for free.

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.56.59 PM

Here you’ll find different professionals who speak lots of different languages. It is possible that you will find a professional there who speaks your native language. They also organise events, meetings, courses and bureaucracy support. If you’re suffering from mental health problems resulting from sexual abuse, you can also contact Lara, who offer counselling and legal support in these cases for free. If you are covered by TK, it also offers an alternative of online counselling for people who are in the process of searching for a therapist but need help urgently. .

Gatherings with groups

As they say in my country, Berlin is like an old Volkswagen Käfer: it always has room for one more. There are tonnes of festivals, tribes, and events going on in the city at all times as well as institutes promoting recurring events focusing specifically on mental health. Some examples include Stillpoint Spaces, Mental Health Sessions and the group Berlin Mental Health Support. It’s true that Berlin can exacerbate your mental health, but at the same time, there’s plenty of support available. Being surrounded by and speaking with people who have the same problems helped me to understand that I am not alone in the battle.

Try to exercise

My therapist kept repeating that I should do more exercise, and at first I wasn’t sure this would do anything except keep me physically fit. However, studies have shown that exercising the body can moderate symptoms of depression and help your sense of well-being. Additionally, if you suffer from anxiety, yoga and meditation are also very helpful when times get tough.


I also personally recommend breathing exercises to deal with panic and anxiety. Nowadays, when I feel overwhelmed with my anxiety, I just take five minutes to meditate and exercise my breathing. It makes a huge difference.

Last but not least, try to keep engaging with the city. Berlin offers everything you could ever want do. Try a cooking class, join a photography collective, attend gallery openings, try a new restaurant with a unique cuisine, join a book club. Getting out there is a fantastic way to beat mental illness. Stay strong, stay active, and know that you’re not alone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s